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Growing Up Glowing – A Woman’s Story of Survival and Inner Strength

Memories

Often in therapy, a psychologist might ask what your first memories are. My first memories seemed to be quite average. Painting, riding a bicycle, listening to music and fairy tales, walking around in my mother’s high heels, my beautiful cat.

Other memories too. Some were more like nightmares that stayed imprinted in my mind forever. Like that time I was left behind at school, or when I was left alone in a hospital room after having my tonsils removed. Were those memories even real?

One of the most vivid early memories I have is of a night when I locked my bedroom door from the inside, as children do when experimenting with random things. I awoke in a terrifying nightmare as my frightened parents were banging on the door desperately trying to get in. In my anxious state, in pitch blackness, I remember crawling on the carpet trying to find the key that I had removed from the lock. I knew that both my parents were there, but all I can remember was my father’s voice as he managed to calmly guide me through both of our fears until I eventually found the key and pushed it under the door to him.

Now that I am a parent myself, knowing the panic he must have felt in his chest, I can only guess that he was preparing to break the door down at any moment.

Family – The Early Years

There were family times, according to the photo albums that I paged through over and over throughout the years. Some I think I can remember — Easters, Christmases, birthdays. The only memory I have of my parents being together was of them holding a hand on each side of me as they did the “1–2–3-swing” with me while walking to the shops.

Then there was only my father. My mother had moved to the big city to “follow her dreams”. That was the story anyway. Thirty years later when I  think about it, I doubt whether those “dreams” were ever even close to realisation.

Either way, as a little girl of seven years old (or young) I found myself sitting on a couch, facing my parents as they asked me to choose which one of them I wanted to live with. That was a decision that would change the course of my life irrevocably. Later on I would blame myself for the choice I made, although at the time I wasn’t told the full truth. Whichever way you look at it though, was it fair to ask a little girl to make such an enormous decision?

Real Life

Around the same time, I was experiencing ongoing abuse from a family member. The kind that no little girl should ever have to deal with. The kind that left me hugging my knees in a corner, in the dark, too scared to make a sound in case anyone found out. Too scared to fall asleep.

I also lost one grandfather to illness. Having been the apple of his eye, this loss broke my heart. For many years afterwards I found some small measure of comfort by curling up in his armchair.

If you’re wondering how I coped, it’s simple really. I dreamed. I immersed myself in stories, believed in fairies and I found freedom in dancing.

Little girl in a big world

Back to that day on the couch. There I was, a little girl of seven sat on the couch looking at both my parents, being forced to choose between them. They promised me that it was only temporary and that my father would join us again later.

However, it quickly became a very permanent arrangement. The weekend visits from my father grew fewer and further between over the following months. Eventually, I would see him only a handful of times until I was in high school.

I remember one occasion when I hadn’t seen him for several months – I couldn’t sleep and happened to be walking around the house late at night. I heard a sound from the front door. An envelope had been pushed through the space underneath. When I picked it up and saw the handwriting, I knew it was his.

Shocked, I opened the door to look for him but all I could see were the lights of a car driving off into the night. In that moment I felt like I had a gaping hole in my stomach, heart and guts on the floor. My hero had left me behind.

little girl big world-her story continued

Primary School Days

Several things would appear in my world and remain to stay for a very long time. The sense that I didn’t belong, the loneliness, a woman (let’s call her The Raging Bull) and the utter turmoil that she brought with her.

‘Speak when you’re spoken to’ was the rule, to the point of being screamed at if I sang to a jingle on TV. So, I kept myself to myself, I buried my nose in books and observed the world around me. The fear was so deeply rooted in me, that I couldn’t bring myself to interrupt a dance class to ask for a bathroom break and had an accident in front of a school hall full of girls. The earth wouldn’t even co-operate by swallowing me that day.

As you may have gathered by now, I was an only child. I always felt different, an outsider and a loner. But, in spite of all that, school was a refuge. While all the other kids were excited when school closed for the holiday, I cried when the bell rang and it was time to leave. I wasn’t popular, and was often teased for being too skinny, flat chested, not talking at all or having a voice “like a baby”, but I  was generally left alone. Thankfully too, most of my teachers were extremely kind to me.

There were friends too, some very special ones who really did leave footprints on my heart, as the saying goes.

Life, Art and People

Early on in this adventure, The Raging Bull moved in with my mother and I. Deeply damaged, only over a decade later would she be diagnosed as “borderline schizophrenic”. Perfectly complimenting my mother, who was an unmedicated bipolar depressive with issues going back to the womb, in all likelihood.

Both were creatives, artists of different forms. Each brilliant at their own particular art. They moved in circles of equally brilliant and interesting people, some also disturbed, some not. My mother was highly antisocial and her interaction with people was awkward at best. Social skills were something that I had to learn slowly throughout my life, more so from watching others who seemed to have it all together.

Who was The Raging Bull anyway?

She was not family, nor an aunt. Yet she wasn’t just a friend either, as this woman and my mother shared a bed. They had many friends who were gay or lesbian, who were wonderful people but, I was told that socialising with these people didn’t mean that they were the same. My mother had lied to me for so long that it was second nature. “She was not gay; she loved my father and was horribly wronged by him and his sly ways.”

I could never understand why my mother continued her gruesome relationship with this evil woman, day after awful day. The Raging Bull contributed nothing but pain. She tortured not only my mother, but me too, emotionally and physically. Yet, there was never any indication of an attempt to end it.

My life in one way provided so many interesting, wonderful and diverse experiences — theatre, art, literature, Hare Krishna temples to happy clappy churches. It was Johannesburg, it was the late 80’s to early 90’s. The world was an interesting place. On two occasions, I even got to shake Nelson Mandela’s hand and I can testify that the Madiba Magic was truly tangible.

the glow switch her story mammachefjozi

Discipline?

Life at home was a twenty-four-hour ticking time bomb. I was screamed at and beaten for anything from taking too long to eat or forgetting to brush my teeth, to losing something at school or just being in the wrong place at the wrong time on someone’s bad day.

On one occasion I was beaten with a thick wooden rod. I was eleven. I know I was eleven because I remembered the teacher, the grade and the report card that said I had experienced “emotional ups and downs”. It was a disappointment to my mother because it really spoiled the look of the A+ marks I usually achieved.

That same teacher was the one who took me to the school psychologist one morning because I couldn’t sit down on a wooden school bench due to the raw welts on my backside, and started crying in the class. Unable to tell the lady about the welts, I told her that I was emotional because I missed my father. When the letter was sent to my mother, suggesting that paternal contact should be encouraged, the rage that rained down on me was the stuff of legend.

Whoever it was that dealt the blows, my mother would always, without fail, come into my room twenty minutes later crying hysterically, apologising profusely for the severity, but in the next breath she was justifying the punishment. After endlessly going through this same cycle, something inside me simply shut off to her dramatic apologies. No apology would ever make it better or would ever make it stop. This was not love, not even close. And worst of all, there was nobody to protect me, not even her.

There was an almost daily occurrence of flying items and out of control, senseless screaming. I would pretend to run away, wrapping important belongings in a kitchen towel on the end of a stick. Inside the top of my bedroom cupboard I made a little hidey-hole to escape to. Then one day I sat on my bed and made a promise to myself. I promised myself that I would leave that house as soon as I could, and never go back.

Family and Comfort

I often formed bonds with other adults who came into my life, maybe because I was so used to adult company. Teachers played an enormous part in my life. There were a few special ones who I really looked up to as role models. Often, they would come to my defence, give me guidance and softly reassure me.

There was an aunt who I saw quite often, who treated me like one of her own children, making me the ‘big sister’ to her four little ones. Their home was always a mix of chaos and fun, loud (in a good way) and busy. This aunt became like a mother to me and we could confide in each other, so much so that she could trust this little girl with the secret of  her affair with a handsome man at work.

Although there was no family nearby during these years, I did often spend school holidays with my grandparents who lived in a small town.

The time would be split between my two sets of grandparents. My grandmother on one side, who was affectionate, caring and loved to treat the children.

Then my grandfather and grandmother on the other side who were strict church going people and highly regarded in their community. This grandmother was somewhat neurotic and had a distant way about her. Not affectionate at all. We did find a way to bond by me reading stories to her when it was time for an afternoon nap.

My grandfather, while being strict, old school and a very orderly and responsible kind of man, was also loving, playful and someone who could be relied on without fail. He later became the rock that I would depend on in so many ways, although he never knew the extent of what went on behind closed doors.

When I was thirteen he had a serious heart attack. This resulted in an earnest recalculation of life’s direction for everyone. His wife, my grandmother, was so completely dependent on him that there was a very real concern for her situation if something were to happen to him. At the end of that year my mother, The Raging Bull and I moved from the big city to the small town where they lived to support (read: lean on) him.

The change would be like being thrown into a washing machine and spun around on a nearly endless cycle, half drowning while desperately trying to figure out which way was up.

What A Time To Be Alive

I hoped that, with so much already behind me, life would give me a break as I entered high school and the dreaded teenage trials. It was, in fact, just starting.

The year was 1994 and the dawn of democracy in South Africa. Nelson Mandela became the first black president of the country. Many celebrated peace, many stockpiled cans of food and spread fear. Some simply tried to survive the day in one piece.

You see, I had moved to a small town after I finished primary school and if I had felt different before, I soon felt as if I was from a completely different universe to everyone around me. Having moved from a big city school that marched for peace, welcomed all races and religions, where children were taught not to recognise colour; to a school in a small town where every single face was the same colour.

On my very first day of high school, I knew nobody. In small towns such as that one, the other children all knew each other.  Things that were considered “cool” in the big city school were unheard of there. Before I had even spoken to anyone, the new kids were all rounded up and the initiation process started, as was apparently the ‘done thing’ when starting high school. We had to remove our shoes and socks and parade into a packed school hall. I was watching the floor in front of me and when I stole a look to my left, all I saw were white faces. If I’d had the vocabulary at the time, I’d have thought to myself, “What the actual fuck?” It was like the twilight zone. It couldn’t have been a worse start.

Being exposed to so much racism and hatred was something that weighed heavily on me. I tried to voice to them how sickening and unacceptable it was to me, but this only made me more unpopular and a target for racist taunts.

In saying this however, it was one of the things that taught me compassion. I couldn’t put myself in their shoes or understand how they felt but I recognised that they were only repeating what they had been taught, growing up the way they did. One had to feel sorry for them, finding it so hard to adjust to “The New South Africa”. I hoped that they would eventually learn to live in peace with other people.

In the big city, school had been a safe place for me. That wasn’t the case anymore.

High school daze … a real life cliché

I don’t have much more to say about high school life. It was just one very long cliché. Friends came and went. There were fun times, less fun times, heartbreaks and teenage dramas. In time there were parties, mischief and underage drinking. Later in life all that would really seem like a blur.

One thing which stood out in that very first, horrendous year of high school, was a boy. One who I may have possibly loved at first sight. In fact, most girls probably loved him at first sight. He was that dreamy boy from the high school TV shows and movies. The student council boy who played for the first team in every sport; charming, charismatic and always smiling; beautiful, piercing eyes as blue as the sky. Whenever I was late for school, I would inevitably run straight into him. He would jokingly tease me about it, and I would quietly melt.

My first year at the school was his last year there but being in a small town, I would run into the Golden Boy again.

It was a house, not a home

Every afternoon, I would walk home from school. My adoring cat would be waiting for me on the corner of our street and we would walk the rest of the way together. When I was home alone in the afternoon things were okay. Most other times it was far from okay.

The aggression and violence in the house seemed to only intensify over these years and was a daily, terrorising presence in my life. My mother and The Raging Bull fought constantly. I don’t really remember anymore what they would fight about but it could have been something as simple as rice that sent the woman into a blind rage. Like a charging bull, her eyes would become wild and abnormally round, and her nostrils would flare. She didn’t kill with a look, that look would have obliterated anyone it was fixed on.

Safety in freedom

Fortunately, I still had my dancing and joined a new ballet school in the small town. The girls there were so different from the girls at school and because of our shared love for dancing, we formed strong friendships that would last a lifetime. I thought of my ballet teacher as an angel on Earth and she would become a very strong influence in my life.

The ballet school was not far from the house, around two kilometres, which made it easy to walk there. When the house blew up, when I felt alone, or when I just wanted to escape, I would pack my little kit bag and walk there.

It was a few precious hours of freedom. Even when it wasn’t my class time, I was allowed to sit and watch, to dance as much as I wanted to, and to help the younger girls. I was allowed to just “be”.

When I was 15, my grandfather bought me a bicycle for my birthday. It was freedom on wheels. Some days I would climb on my bicycle and ride around for hours. I’d visit a friend or go and play tennis or squash. Anywhere in the general direction of “away” was a good place to be.

Friendship — My saving grace

Sleeping over at a friend’s house presented another opportunity to relax. It didn’t happen very often. When I was seventeen, I was introduced to a new friend through one of the dancing girls. We connected immediately and soon became close. This would become a lifetime friendship and through good times and bad, we would be there for each other. Coincidentally, this friend’s aunt lived across the road from my house.  

My friend was an only child as well and her parents were quite protective, rightfully of course. I was quiet and well behaved, so her parents didn’t mind having me around to visit.

I would be invited to stay over quite often. We would make food, watch movies and talk about life as teenage girls know it. Many years later, when we were living in our own homes, drinking wine, watching movies and talking about life as grown women know it, my friend told me how her parents had never allowed sleepovers.

No other friends were ever invited to her house. Not until her mother was told by the aunt who lived across the road from me, that she felt incredible pity for me. She often saw me walking to school; this girl who looked like a little angel to her, lived in a house with a demon. She told her that they needed to get me out as often as possible and keep me safe. This was something that touched me deeply when I heard it because those days and nights of freedom and the people who were gentle and caring, were truly my saving grace.

I feel that it is important to highlight that some people are blessed with the strength and insight to rise above their circumstances. There are children who grow up in houses with alcoholics and abusive parents, who would in turn bully others or act out in some equally destructive way. It has never been lost on me how many wonderful people, how many beautiful souls, came across my path and taught me to know better and to want better than what I came from. Rise above…

The story is far from over, but by that stage in life, just about eighteen years old, I had come to realise that The Raging Bull, was actually very much like a puffer fish. Puffing itself up and showing its spikes to intimidate. The terror she created gave her power until one day, while being towered over and screamed at over some laundry offence, I looked into her glaring eyes and flaring nostrils, I blocked out the noise and calmly, gently smiled and said “Okay.”

Not getting the reaction she expected, The Raging Bull stopped, turned around and stomped off in the opposite direction.

Hold your pose, even as your heart breaks

Slowly but surely, I found a strength that glowed within my heart. It didn’t come without its side effects but it was vital in this life I was surviving in. I found my strength, not in reacting with the same aggression with which I was treated with, but in silence. By locking my fear, my tears and my overwhelming sadness inside a wall of cool, hard stone, I could protect myself and also would not give anyone the satisfaction of owning my emotions. Safe in the knowledge by this time, that what didn’t kill me would make me stronger, I held my pose…

Held my pose…

Family Matters

My Father

I hadn’t seen him for years, from the age of about seven years old until I was around fourteen. No phone calls, nothing at all except the photos that I had of him and of course the tales from my mother’s venomous tongue.

Still, he always remained my hero and I dreamed that perhaps things could have been different. My father’s mother, my warm and loving Oma, lived in the same small town. My Oma would make sure that, once or twice a year when he visited her, I would be there too.

He was always consistent, always funny, kind, extremely intelligent and slightly distant. On one occasion he collected my Oma and I in his car, and took us to his home for a weekend. It was about a three-hour drive and I was shell shocked just to be going there. I hadn’t been to his house before. As we arrived, a beautiful, smiling woman opened the door.

I felt like I’d been ambushed. My grandmother knew this lady, yet nobody had told me about her. I felt the need to sit down, to be alone, process.

Process what though? How would this affect my life in any way? The fact was that, it wouldn’t really.

As it turned out, the lady was welcoming, warm and attentive. On the odd occasion that we spent time together after that first visit, there were road trips, peaceful meals, lovely times. Their relationship would come to an end eventually, but it was part of the start to a relationship between my father and I that would hobble along like a little toddler learning to walk, for years to come.

My parents finally divorced when I was seventeen years old. It was paperwork that could have been done years previously. It was both momentous and not, but certainly the start of the realisation of what he had been doing for me and what he had gone through, himself.

My Mother

One thing I had in common with my mother was the fact that we were, or felt, so different to everyone else. My mother wore it like a badge of honour, going out of her way to prove just how different she was. It seemed to me that it wasn’t just about proving her uniqueness, but that by definition in her mind it made her better than the commoners. She was cultured, artistic, knowledgeable. I wanted nothing more than to be normal, if that would mean peaceful, happy.

Being bipolar, there were times when my mother was in super high spirits and more often, times when she was in the darkest depths. I was sixteen years old when my mother stopped working due to medical reasons or retrenchment, or both. I can’t remember. Either way, this development didn’t help matters. There never was any money, there never had been. Standout meals were spaghetti with a tin of peas, maybe a tin of mushrooms as well if we were lucky. We were vegetarian and I used to water the vegetable garden every day after school, making sure that dinner was growing. The thought of eggplant makes me sick to this day.

Even on the occasion that my mother had a good day, wasn’t swallowing handfuls of pills, The Raging Bull had a way of putting an end to it in an instant. All she had to do was enter the house.

My Grandfather

My grandfather was the voice of reason amid the insanity that was my life. He was my rock. The one who did everything for everyone without ever expecting anything in return. A devout church member and leader, with the biggest heart.

He would come to the house on a Saturday morning to make sure that things at the house (which he had bought) were being seen to. His attempts to talk sense into my mother would generally lead to an argument after he left. On a monthly basis he would come and sit with my mother, separating the money into different envelopes for the various expenses, i.e. budgeting. He had been retired for some years by the time I finished high school, but he was always busy, always involved, always on the go. He would never leave me without imparting some wisdom or motivation to me and I will never forget his voice. Steady, confident, loving, wise.

After his sudden and unexpected passing a few years later, from a heart attack, he was berated in his grave for not making sure that my mother was “looked after” after he died. He had done everything in his power while he was alive and I thought that surely it should have been us, looking after him.

the glow switch her story part 3 discovering the glow inside

Lifelines and Losses

Connected At The Heart

Remember my adoring cat? The one who cuddled with me under the blanket every night and walked me home from school; climbed into my arms as I cried and sat on the edge of the bath with me every day. I had gotten him when I was a toddler – he knew everything and still loved me. We were connected at the heart and deeply so.

I was fourteen when we went to visit family over Christmas. There was nobody to look after the cat and he was sent to a kennel. Two days after Christmas the phone call came. My precious cat was extremely ill and had to be rushed to the vet. When we arrived back in town I ran into the room where the cages were kept. His was just at eye level. I opened the cage and lightly pressed my forehead against his. He started to cry, a low, painful cry that reverberated in my heart.

His organs were failing. They said he had feline diabetes and though he hadn’t shown any symptoms previously, his age and the days of separation had taken their toll. I carried his limp little body to the examination table and lay him down, cradling his head as the injection ended his suffering.

Nothing could console me.

Dance

I immersed myself in dancing. By the time I was seventeen and in my final school year, it took up hours of each and every day. I had my heart set on going to study ballet and choreography at university. As much as my grandfather, my guiding light, protested that this would be an unfruitful career choice, he picked up the application forms for me anyway.

The angel who was my ballet teacher would go so far as to drive me to the city, spend an entire day finding the perfect pointe shoes and buying them for me. It was a gift that no words could ever sufficiently describe.

I didn’t get the chance to apply for the course.

One afternoon after I had spent a couple of hours at the ballet studio, warming up, stretching, and rehearsing for an upcoming performance, I sat in a split position, facing the wall. Suddenly I heard a snapping sound and felt something give way in my thigh. It didn’t hurt, so I continued with the class into the evening.

Later that night I was admitted to hospital in excruciating pain. I’d torn a ligament in my thigh. It put an immediate end to my ballet dreams. I remember still being in hospital when the day of the performance came, begging the doctor in tears to let me go and dance. Of course, there was no way. My heart was shattered.

I was lost. It was over.

Ever changing, ever growing

Although I would still visit the classes, still sit and watch the other girls dance, everything was different. What lay ahead was finishing a Matric year, Grade 12, and having to find a completely new direction for my future.

The next two years alone would bring events that would not only shake me to the core, but rip apart the world as I knew it, completely.

her story part 5 what glows beneath the ashes mammachefjozi the glow switch

The heart that glows beneath the ashes

Choices

All I wanted at that stage was to get away. After the end of my dancing career, with no inkling of what I wanted to do, I thought that a “gap year” sounded like a good option. My grandfather would have none of that, insisting that I get “a qualification behind my name” before considering anything else. He had found a business college nearby that offered a one-year diploma in Tourism Management, the buzzword at the time. In consultation with my father it was decided and done.

That course would turn out to be worth zero in terms of education, but simultaneously one of the best things that could have happened in my life.

My father ensured that I became a licensed driver and gave me a reliable set of wheels. In other words, the ultimate freedom! I still lived in the house but I was now allowed to go out as I pleased and I took full advantage of that. Friendships were cemented for life, mischief and laughter were the order of most days and one never had to search too hard for a reason to celebrate something with a party!

The Storm

Inside the house, things continued to intensify. The mood became darker and the fights increasingly more violent as The Raging Bull explored her own past in therapy. Through this process she discovered that she was molested by her own father, who had passed away a number of years before. This, and being diagnosed as a borderline schizophrenic, opened an entirely new can of snakes, the depths of her depression were dramatic.

There were nights when I would wander into the kitchen and find The Raging Bull manically drawing the most disturbing images. Don’t forget that she had a phenomenal talent for detail in her art.

On one of those strange nights, The Raging Bull started talking to me, telling me that she wanted us to have a mother and daughter relationship as she’d never had children of her own. The time for bonding had been and gone but I wasn’t going to risk unleashing any kind of episode. In the detached way that I had developed, I managed to tiptoe gently around the idea that the relationship between us was “unique” in its own way. I had one mother (and Lord only knows, one was enough.)

The two women were planning a trip to Cape Town. They would be away for two weeks and I would stay behind to write exams.

Shortly before they left for the trip, there was an argument of epic proportions. The Raging Bull had been having a relationship with a colleague. As most of them did, the fight became physical. At one point she threw my mother out of the front doorway where she fell onto the grass, crying out in pain. How it happened I still couldn’t say, but I, having reached my limit, ran out to try to stop it.

Both women were on the ground in a fight that was out of control. Like watching a movie, I saw myself kick The Raging Bull in the side as hard as I could. That was all it took.

That was the end of the fight.

The Raging Bull sped away in her car, disappearing for hours in another apparent suicide attempt.

The Trip – The Turning Point

It was a peaceful two weeks alone. I arrived home from a friend’s in the morning and ran a bath. I had just settled in to soak for a while when the phone rang. Wrapped in a towel and dripping with water, I ran to answer the call. Strangely, it was a woman I hadn’t heard from since my primary school days.

There had been an accident on the road back. The police must have dialled any number they could find. She was calling to let me know that The Raging Bull had been killed on impact, and my mother was critically injured. I had to get to the hospital in Bloemfontein.

Within a couple of hours, I was on the road with two friends who refused to leave my side. Arriving at the hospital, I didn’t recognise my mother, her face was so badly cut and bruised. My friends and I were given accommodation on the floor in the lounge of an elderly couple, distant relatives that I didn’t know at all. The days went past in a blur of police, belongings, phone calls. My grandfather followed in a few days to transport my mother back to a hospital near home.

It fell to my responsibility to inform people of The Raging Bull’s death, speak to all the friends and family who phoned, make the arrangements, clean and nurse my mother’s wounds, and deliver a speech at the memorial service. It was surreal.

I didn’t cry. Someone had to welcome the guests, keep the house in order, support and console my mother, cook. Only one person, who was oddly enough my distant grandmother, ever asked if I was okay.

Through this experience I realised the power of the universe. That this person’s life had spiralled out of control, beyond help, and there was no other way. Every person has their time and the universe knew, God knew, it was time.

The Future Before Me

A New Path

Without the escape of dancing I found solace in reading and became more focused on writing. I wrote down my thoughts, feelings, poetry and stories and as I built up a composed exterior, the emotions inside flowed from my heart in ink.

In the year following the The Raging Bull’s death, I left the small town to go and study for a degree in a new town. I was nineteen at the time, and true to the promise I had made to myself as a little girl, I never returned to the house I grew up in.

Potent concoctions of medication gulped down with hard liquor, combined with the singular self-absorption that came with bipolar/manic depression in this instance, had worn away the tenuous relationship between mother and daughter.

When the straw eventually broke the camel’s back, it was a relief to me. It was a release of the strangle-hold of toxicity on my life and I could breathe… I could just breathe. I would never allow it to affect my life again.

Around the same time I also said goodbye to my loving Oma, leaving a kiss on her cold, damp forehead and hearing the last breath leave her body.

The car that I was given by my father would become my little nomad-mobile over the coming years as I navigated the dunes of life. Occasionally stopping at a little oasis for a while before packing all my belongings into my car again and moving on.

The Heart

There were relationships of course, some that seemed so important at the time but over the years the feelings and events of each one faded. My first love was sweet, at one point it would become a long-distance thing with long letters posted and bus trips to and from. After that came to an end, my own well-guarded heart left a few others broken.

There was the fun one, more like a favourite party friend than a boyfriend. His mother took me under her wing and did so much for me. There was one who was highly intelligent, emotionally deep but complicated and possessively jealous.

Relationships were disposable and I was able to pack all my earthly things into my nomad-mobile whenever I felt the need, and go to wherever I felt was good.

Then, along the way, I met up with the Golden Boy, the one from all those years back. It is this reunion that eventually lead me to where you will find me today.

her story part 5 what glows beneath the ashes mammachefjozi the glow switch

Wherever You Glow

At the fabulous and free young age of twenty-one I had developed a hard shell and a state of emotional detachment from all but my close friends, who had become like sisters.

My studies at university started off with me choosing a course because I had to. Fortunately, I found a subject that grabbed my attention and in my second year I changed to a degree in Industrial Psychology. It made sense to me and I enjoyed all the different aspects of it. This decision would ultimately pay off in a huge way, helping me to not only stand on my own two feet, but rise beyond anything I thought possible at the time.

The Return Of The Golden Boy

It was a serendipitous flow of events that brought us to the same place that evening. I was walking across the room inside a bustling nightclub and as I looked towards the dance floor, I saw him, surrounded by a halo of light. That charming smile lit up his face and for just a second, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “This must be a dream …”

Eight and a half years later, I opened my eyes, exhaled, and knew that it was in fact a dream. One that possibly looked different to me than it did to him. One that had two sides, or was it three?

That marriage taught me so much. On one hand, it taught me what a home was really about, what family truly was. I learned that an argument didn’t have to be what I grew up with; that if I accidentally broke a glass I didn’t have to fear the consequences. His parents became MY parents. In sickness, we all sat together on the floor in a hospital, waiting out an eight hour heart operation. In health, we laughed, we travelled, we braaied at 3am and we played games.

For poorer, we started out with a fridge and a mattress. For richer, we renovated a four bedroom house, then lived in an upmarket estate and I spent quite some time trying to emulate a Stepford Wife (unsuccessfully).

The vows of love and cherish mingled with alcohol abuse and long nights alone, waiting for him to come home. We both had our faults. Inevitably, he would turn elsewhere for what he needed and after eight and a half years, the marriage died. I had tried and done everything I could think of at the time, before giving in.

So much had changed. I had changed.

Either way, I once again found myself packing my belongings, and those of my four-month-old baby boy, into my car. Together we drove off following a road that only the Universe knew.

I didn’t know whether it would be for a day, a month or a year. I had no idea what lay ahead for us but I believed, I had faith that everything would be okay.

For this little blue-eyed boy, everything had to be okay. Two days after his first birthday and before I was thirty years old, we were divorced.

The light at the end of the tunnel

We moved in at first with a friend in the big city, the same friend who had been by my side since I was seventeen. She knew every single thing about me and still loved me… there was no safer place to be in the world at that time.

I had a baby, a car, a suitcase and an endless amount of love and support. From that moment onwards, the Universe was set in motion to create a life that I could never have imagined.

I remember sitting outside every day, my head resting on the back of the chair and the scene in front of me playing out like a time lapse video. Winter was turning to Spring. I watched a line of bare Silver Birches become lush with bright green leaves and little Weaver birds building nests for their families. To me it symbolised new life. A new beginning.

Although I didn’t have much materially, I knew that I had to make a beautiful life for the little child who had been entrusted to me. He would have a happy family, even if it was a family of just the two of us. He would have a home where he was safe and a mother who he could rely on for anything.

Sparking a career

So, there I was, in the big city and having not worked for nearly a year, desperately looking for gainful employment.

Back in the day, I had obtained a degree in Industrial Psychology, which was a subject that I really enjoyed (and didn’t have to work too hard at). I was fortunate in that I had previously had job opportunities in administrative positions. Even though my work experience was broken in terms of continuity due to travel etc., that coupled with my degree and my super-duper interview skills, proved to be absolutely invaluable.

One day, about six weeks into my spring time-lapse video, a friend phoned me with a possible opportunity. It was a two-week admin job in a company that did Labour Law! Right up my alley! I got the job, and with my reasonably decent writing skills, managed to make myself useful enough to be offered a permanent position.

With that, I was able to put my little boy into a lovely nursery school and in less than six months, we were able to move into our own little home.

I left that company four years later, having built up a huge amount of experience, worked under pressure and learned important new skills, while developing a professional thick skin. I had developed a real passion for my work and I could basically walk into management roles from there on out. Not bad for someone who was made to feel worthless and capable of nothing.

Today I am reasonably successful – having built a solid career, I have a blog that is my own little creative space on the interwebs and I am mom to two very happy, secure little boys!

Surrender

I had decided to surrender – something I had heard on an Oprah Winfrey show years earlier. In times of desperation, surrender. I would say yes to opportunities that felt good, I would have faith that everything would work out and it truly did.

It continues to work out to this day. With every passing moment, I know it will be okay.

Family Now

At the time of writing this story, my phenomenal husband (SuperDad) and I have been together for nearly ten years and we have been through some interesting times together!

From days of basically living in a basement when we bought our first home together and had to wait for the transfer – surrounded by little kids with violent diarrhoea and projectile vomiting … to the most beautiful, intimate wedding weekend surrounded by family who loved us, and our children. It has been a wonderful collection of highs and lows as a complete life should be.

I haven’t doubted him, haven’t ever had to wait for him. He was sent to us when the time was right.

I can trust him and rely on him in any and every moment of every day. Simultaneously, I am undoubtedly, authentically, unapologetically me, and as much as I know that I drive my husband crazy he never makes me feel less loved. For so long, all I wanted was to be “normal” and in trying so hard to be a “good wife” early on, I lost myself completely. Eventually, I got to know and appreciate myself, find value in my uniqueness and experience joy within my own little bubble.

It would be impossible to mention all the wonderful people who played a role in mentoring me and guiding me along the way. I would have been lost without all these angels. I am of course, still learning and growing every day.

All I ever wished for was a family and my goodness, that is what I have! My sons have a home that is stable and safe, they have an incredible, doting father who is a stellar example to them and life is fun. We have a large extended family that celebrates together, cries together, and stands together through everything.

Further to that, over the years I built a really special relationship with my father, which I am endlessly grateful for. He found his happily ever after with my wonderful stepmom and together they are such loving grandparents, always there when you need them, an extended family filled with joy and love.

In the end (or in the middle)

At the end of this story (for the time being), I have experienced in my own life and witnessed in so many others, that there is a glow within us that can never be extinguished.

It’s the will to keep going, the will to be better and do better. To rise above. It’s the fiery protectiveness of a mother, the constant warming flame of love.

As women, we move through our days switching from professional to chef, to healer, to lover, to teacher and countless other embodiments in between. This is what my series, The Glow Switch is about — women who find the glow within themselves and use it to get through whatever they may face, with Grace. Even though this story is my own, I want to convey the story of a woman. Not only as a mother, not only as a wife or a child or a professional but as a woman in every aspect of her life.

With love,

Jeanne-Riette

“Inhale, exhale. It is well. It is well. All of this is a part of the story you will tell.” – Morgan Harper Nichols

Read more of my own stories here:

https://mammachefjozi.com/letter-to-my-firstborn-our-story-of-birth-life-and-beyond/

https://mammachefjozi.com/birthdays-my-baby-year-2012/

My deepest thanks to Carly from Blue Media Edit for the editing and support!


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